Proust’s Remembrance, Revisited

Following the previous delightful attempt at baking Earl Grey Madeleines, I’d decided to return to the basics i.e. revisit the recipe for the traditional recipes which prompted Proust’s provocative description.

Below is yet another excerpt…

 …when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called petites madeleines, which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreay day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin…”

–  Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

The more I read excerpts available on the internet, the more curious I get about this book. I really should remember to pick up this book the next time I visit Kinokuniya, my favourite bookstore.

Recipe: Traditional Madeleines

Ingredients

  • 55g all-purpose flour
  • 1g baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 65g caster sugar
  • some lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C.
  2. Prepare a madeleine pan by buttering the pan, dust the insides with flour and tapping out the excess. No preparation is required for silicone moulds.
  3. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  4. Rub the lemon zest into the sugar in a medium bowl until well distributed.
  5. Add the egg into the sugar and beat on medium speed until mixture is thick and light.
  6. Add in the vanilla.
  7. Gently fold in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatular until well-mixed.
  8. Gently fold in the cooled melted butter until well-mixed.
  9. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. (If you want your madeleines to turn out with a more pronounced hump characteristic of madeleines, you can cover the batter-filled pan with cellophane wrap and refrigerate overnight).
  10. Transfer the madeleines to cool on wire rack before storing them in an air-tight container, although madeleines taste best when eaten fresh out of the oven.

Yield : 12 petite madeleines

Madeleines are not tedious or require much elbow grease to prepare or bake, but somehow I don’t come across many online bakers who bake them. Perhaps they too, like me, have very little patience. For starters, it’s just not in my nature to let something sit in the chiller overnight just to ensure that the madeleines achieve a more pronounced hump, but I did. Several times to boot!

Ah well, the lengths I would go in the name of a fastidious baker.

Tokyo Delights I

On our recent trip to Tokyo, we made time to visit Aoki Sadaharu and Hidemi Sugino’s pâtisseries. Sadaharu has 2 outlets in Tokyo – one in Yurakucho and one in Isetan Shinjuku. Naturally we chose to patronise the outlet at Isetan Shinjuku because Isetan is a much easier landmark to locate than a rather non-descript building in Marunouchi. And so, on the second day of our vacation, we dropped by Isetan Shinjuku with much expectations. I’ve heard so much about his matcha and yuzu eclairs I could hardly contain my excitement as we circled the basement level of the massive shopping mall looking for the elusive outlet.

After circling the plethora of counters and shops all selling Japanese sweets and cakes, we gave up and made a beeline for the information counter. Better to ask for help than to lose precious time searching for the outlet ourselves.

It was easy enough to locate the outlet after we obtained directions from the information counter. And so, I stepped into the outlet with much fervour. Two things struck me the moment I walked in – the pastries were expensive, and the display counter looked… empty. It must be no later than 4pm, but the eclairs were sold out, and they were left only with 1 salted caramel tart. I was inconsolable.

It was decided that a return, at an earlier time, was in order. Or better still, we should visit the main outlet even if it meant having to brave Yurakucho, Tokyo’s business district which we are rather unfamiliar with. Because our schedule was quite full the next few days, we only had the opportunity to go a looking for Sadaharu’s pâtisserie in Yurakucho a week later. And boy, were we lost.

Fearing a long queue and potentially a sell-out of the eclairs again, we looked exactly our part – 2 casually-dressed tourists running amok amidst well-dressed-in-business-suits Japanese. Or perhaps I should correct that: the hubby was running around frantically looking for the pâtisserie fearing my disappointment again while I strolled on, stopping ever so often to take shots of anything which caught my eye.

With some difficulty, we finally located the pâtisserie. And the hubby shot me a murderous look as if saying ‘I thought you say there is going to be a long queue? Who are you kidding?!’

I shrugged and stuck out my tongue.

Because we just made a trip to Tsukiji Fish Market prior and had a delectable sushi breakfast, we really hadn’t the appetite for much sweets. After much contemplation, we ordered a chocolate eclair, matcha eclair and salted caramel tart. The yuzu eclair apparently, if my limited grasp of Japanese didn’t fail me, has been removed from their line of regular pastries.

We took our time, and thoroughly enjoyed the pastries. And the much celebrated matcha eclairs are… to die for. I would have gone for seconds if I weren’t already full with my sushi breakfast. A real pity, that was. There were so many things I wanted to try but I just wasn’t ready to stuff myself to surfeited collapse.

We bought some of their BonBon Chocolat as souvenirs for good friends because they were decidedly the only items that have expiry dates beyond Dec 2010. And below is a parting shot of the pâtisserie. For sure, I would revisit the next time we swing by Tokyo again. I have not had my fill yet.

As for the special trip made to Sugino’s Patisserie, I’d just decided it deserves a separate post of its own.

Swirling in Raspberry

I had some raspberry purée sitting in the freezer compartment and it was nearing the expiry date. And so I went on a sort of rampage trawling the internet for any recipes requiring it. This recipe I found is meant for a full-sized cake but a sudden stroke of genius must have hit me; I decided to convert the recipe into cupcake portions instead.

Recipe: Raspberry Swirl Cheese Cupcakes

Ingredients

  • 10 whole Oreo cookies, crushed
  • 40g unsalted butter, melted
  • 360g cream cheese, room temperature
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/4 cup raspberry purée

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 170°C.
  2. Prepare 8 cupcake cases (each of 1/2 cup size) and lay them on top of a small cookie tray.
  3. Mix the melted butter and oreo cookies in a mixing bowl till bonded. Divide the mixture evenly among the 8 cupcake cases (about 17g each).
  4. Wrap a glass with a plastic sheet, and make use of the base to compact the crust.
  5. Bake the crust for 5 minutes, then remove it to cool completely.
  6. In one large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy.
  7. Add in the sugar in a slow, steady stream and beat until just combined.
  8. Add the eggs into the mixture one at a time, making sure that each addition is well-incorporated before adding another. Add in the vanilla essence.
  9. Pour the batter onto the baked crust till about 7/8 cup full.
  10. Add 1 tsp of raspberry pureé on top of each cupcake and use a wooden skewer to swirl carefully through the cheese batter.
  11. Bake for 10-15 minutes until just set.
  12. Switch off the oven, leave the door slightly ajar, and let the cupcakes cool completely in the oven before removing.

Yield : large cupcakes

The cupcake cases I used were about the size of 1/2 cup. If you are using the smaller cases which fit snugly into those 12-hole muffin pans, then you probably can make about 12 cupcakes. Just remember to adjust the amount of raspberry purée required, downwards. Also, take special note that the baked cupcakes should be kept away from the cool outside air as much as possible while cooling, otherwise it would sink in the centre. And, avoid putting too much pureé in the centre lest the same happens.

The cheese layer was a still a little soft and jiggly after cooling down; I think I could have baked it a little longer. But honestly, I quite liked this texture – soft and smooth like puddings, and best eaten straight out of the cupcake case with a dessert spoon!

Feel free to go ahead and make changes to the base of the cupcakes or even the raspberry purée. You might just create a cupcake which you can truly call your own.

Proust’s Remembrance, with a Twist

Whenever madeleines are mentioned, French author Marcel Proust shall come to mind, for he single-handedly immortalised madeleines outside of France. How so, you might ask? In Proust’s monumental novel ‘In Search of Lost Time’ (sometimes also known as ‘Remembrance of Things Past’), he described his first awakening ‘encounter’ with madeleines over tea.

Below is an excerpt…

“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.”

–  Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

Indeed, we come to the conclusion that Proust’s little episode with the madeleines brought about some involuntary memory of his childhood. I could identify with Proust, for I too, have a food which would bring on involuntary memory of my childhood – I associate steamed egg cakes (known as ‘gai dan gou‘ to me when I was young) with my late paternal grandmother, who has left us for a decade now.

Recipe: Earl Grey Madeleines

Ingredients

  • 35g unsalted butter
  • 1 sachet of Gryphon Earl Grey Tea
  • 55g all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1 tbsp floral honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C.
  2. Melt the butter and empty the sachet of earl grey tea leaves to infuse for about 5 minutes before straining and discarding the leaves. Leave butter to cool.
  3. Prepare a madeleine pan by buttering the pan, dust the insides with flour and tapping out the excess. No preparation is required for silicone moulds.
  4. Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  5. Add the egg into the sugar and beat on medium speed until mixture is thick and light.
  6. Add in the floral honey and vanilla extract.
  7. Gently fold in the dry ingredients with a rubber spatular until well-mixed.
  8. Gently fold in the cooled melted butter until well-mixed.
  9. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. (If you want your madeleines to turn out with a more pronounced hump which is characteristic of madeleines, cover the batter-filled pan with cling wrap and refrigerate overnight).
  10. Transfer the madeleines to cool on wire rack before storing them in an air-tight container, although madeleines taste best when eaten fresh out of the oven.

Yield : 12 petite madeleines

These earl grey madeleines are not the typical madeleines we usually see. You see, I’ve always been more of a tea rather than coffee person, and earl grey teas are always quite my favourite. I would just have to attempt this recipe and I am proud to declare that the madeleines do turn out quite okay.

If you have an issue with the glossy sheen on the madeleines, then take note not to use silicon moulds. I could live with it, for I much prefer the sheen over the laborious task of buttering or flouring the crooks and crevices on a metal mould for madeleines. Entirely your call.

Everyone who is in the know will tell you that madeleines are best eaten fresh out of the oven for they notoriously turn stale rather rapidly. In a nutshell, madeleines don’t keep well so do not attempt to keep it beyond a day or they won’t taste as well as they should. In fact, baked madeleines should be stashed away in air-tight containers once cooled if they are not to be consumed immediately.

Wotcha Matcha

I have an unhealthy fixation for anything to do with Matcha. And no, it cannot be green tea leaves but Matcha – the finely-milled Japanese green tea powder. You know, the type which is used in the elaborate Japanese Tea Ceremony. Well then, you must have come to the conclusion that Matcha must not be cheap. That’s right, Matcha is generally more expensive than other types of tea, which is why I usually only stock up my precious stash whenever we visit Japan. It is rather expensive to acquire the quality types in Singapore.

And it is a given that I would always be on the lookout for any recipes that involved the usage of Matcha, in this case Matcha cookies.

Recipe: Matcha Cookies

Ingredients

  • 180g all-purpose flour
  • 20g Matcha
  • 160g unsalted butter, softened
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 medium egg, room temperature
  • 50g sliced almond

Instructions

  1. Sift together the flour and Matcha in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until texture is light and fluffy.
  3. Add in the egg and mix until fully incorporated.
  4. Add in the dry ingredients and stir lightly by hand with a rubber spatula until smooth. Gently fold in the sliced almonds.
  5. Form into 2 rolls on waxed papers and chill overnight.
  6. Preheat oven to 180°C.
  7. Line a baking sheet with baking paper or silpat and set aside.
  8. Slice the chilled batter thinly and place them on the baking sheet.
  9. Bake for about 12-15 minutes
  10. Remove the cookies to a cooling rack to cool.

Yield: 15 cookies
[credits: Japanese Green Tea Hibiki-an]

Three kinds of people make up the world, well, at least to me, that is. The first kind do not like in the least bit anything to do with Matcha – they find the herbaceous taste offensive; the second kind do not mind their lives with or without Matcha; and the third kind, like me, cannot get enough of Matcha – we crave for Matcha like vampires crave for blood. Ermm… alright, that’s not a very apt analogy but you get the idea.

If you belong to the first group, do yourself a favour and skip this recipe. For people belonging to the second group, my guess is that you do not have Matcha readily available at home, and the price of Matcha would put you off trying out this recipe anyway. So that leaves us with the third group, the half-crazy group of us who treat any recipes with Matcha with utter reverence. You must try this recipe! But go ahead and half the recipe. I did, because the whole recipe would have used up too much of my Matcha. You see, I prefer to reserve my Matcha for drinking.

The cookies are not in the least crunchy and crispy, like other cookies we are used to. They are more, for lack of a better word, cake-like. You would have to try it to know what I’m talking about. One thing for certain, I will not be sharing my Matcha cookies. I have to confess that I am rather selfish where my Matcha is concerned.

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